After a fire nearly
destroyed West Bend's business district in 1894, the
West Bend Mutual Fire Insurance Co. was founded in this
small building on Main Street, seen in this undated
photo. Over the past 123 years, the firm, now known as
the West Bend Mutual Insurance Company, has grown to be
one of Washington counties largest employers and is
located on a large campus at 1900 S. 18th Street. Photo
courtesy of West Bend Mutual Insurance Co.
heart of West Bend nearly quit beating in 1893, putting
the city’s continued existence in jeopardy.
According to local history author Dorothy Williams, in
her book “SpirIt of West Bend,” flames were spotted by a
night watchman shooting from a business on Main Street.
It didn’t take long for the fire to spread to the mostly
wood-frame buildings lining the east side of Main Street
in the heart of the city’s business district.
make matters worse, the city had no fire alarm system,
so word of the impending disaster was spread person to
person and, according to Williams, when firemen arrived
at the scene, the heat was so intense, “they had to push
the machinery way around and across the river, resulting
in a dangerous delay.”
a time, Williams wrote, it appeared the entire city
might be engulfed by the spreading flames.
was summoned from places as far away as Fond du Lac and
Milwaukee to fight the fire, which ultimately leveled
more than a city block in downtown.
blaze left the city’s businessmen with a troublesome
problem. Another fire in West Bend a little more than a
decade earlier had already raised the cost of fire
insurance and the 1893 conflagration was going to push
the expense even higher for local business owners.
of the ashes of that disaster came the birth of a
company that, more than 120 years later, brought the
name of the city to national and international
attention. On April 13, 1894, the constitution of the
West Bend Mutual Fire Insurance Co. was adopted,
according to the website of today’s West Bend Mutual
Insurance Co., 1900 S. 18th Ave., one of Washington
County’s largest employers.
fight the high cost of fire insurance in the aftermath
of the 1893 blaze, local businessmen formed the company
in which the insurance policyholders are the owners and
any profits are returned to them as lower rates,
according to the company’s website.
In 1991, the West Bend Mutual Insurance Co. moved from
South Sixth Avenue in West Bend to a 150,000-square-foot
building on sprawling campus on South 18th Avenue. Photo
courtesy of the West Bend Mutual Insurance Co.
was an idea that caught on in the devastated business
community and just two weeks after the company was
founded, its first policy was sold, according to the
fledgling firm was in a small building on Main Street.
As it continued to grow, it moved to a building at 300
S. 6th Ave., a structure that would eventually become
home to the West Bend Art Museum and after the Museum of
Wisconsin Art was built, was the headquarters of Delta
1991, West Bend Mutual Insurance moved to a
125,000-square-foot building on a sprawling campus at
1900 S. 18th Ave.
2006, a 214,000-square-foot addition was built due to
company expansion. In 2008, the company kicked off its
“Silver Lining” rebranding campaign in the media across
2015, the company, according to its 2016 annual report,
reached a milestone when it recorded more than $1
billion in direct written premiums. The firm employs
more than 1,200 people and is represented by 1,500
independent agency partners. It sells property and
casualty insurance for homes, vehicles, businesses and